Learning the Web

Finding a gentle entry to a big space


The Web welcomes, but it’s awfully big. While HTML, CSS, and JavaScript may all be appropriate entry points for newcomers who want to create, finding a solid starting point can be complicated. Social media has minimized the level of HTML and Web knowledge people need to start contributing, but when it’s time to make the jump, the Web offers perhaps too many options.

Part of the challenge is that HTML, CSS, and JavaScript may be the marquee technologies, but they’re not actually what hosts a website or app. Setting up a site requires an additional set of technologies, from domain names to hosting to web server choices. Setting up a site – long before you get to packaging an app! – requires mastering an additional technical toolset and vocabulary that will help you navigate where you need to put your projects. Our free report, Getting Started with the Web, provides the core foundations beginners need.

Those aren’t the only barriers, though. Earlier this year, Rachel Andrew worried that:

We’re cutting off those easy entries into becoming a really good web developer because you can use so much stuff now… you read any tutorial and you need Grunt, you need all these other things, you can’t just write CSS. I got into the Web just because I wanted to build websites, and I viewed source and I started building website. You still can do that. I want to make sure there’s still those easy routes in so that people can start playing with things, and don’t feel the need to have a huge stack of stuff before they can write a line of HTML.

Tools are just part of the challenge, though – the ever-expanding universe of devices on which people view the Web makes it all more daunting. Andrew addressed that too:

that battle about “what do we do with these phones?” …we sidestepped [making multiple sites] with responsible design but there are still issues of performance, things we’re trying to work out as a community. I think it’s the best thing we have to tackle the issue.

The good news on the device front is that HTML itself is quite nicely responsive, though creating attractive formatting that adjusts itself naturally across device contexts is trickier. In some ways, though, it’s easier to learn responsive design early, when you don’t have to unlearn past techniques, than to bolt it on later. Getting started right will make it much easier when it’s time to optimize.

HTML5, which revitalized HTML a few years ago, started as an effort to improve HTML form handling, and then grew rapidly beyond that. Support for audio and video removed the need for (slow and risky) browser plugins just as Flash, the main way people had delivered multimedia content, was having a very bad few years at the hands of Apple. Managing large audio and video files remains a challenge of its own, but including them in a document has become much more like including an image in a document – manageable.

Would you like to learn these things, building sites (and perhaps eventually apps) that will look good and last through years of maintenance? O’Reilly’s HTML5 Fundamentals Learning Path can get you started.

tags: , , , , , , ,